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Harlock Space Pirate UK DVD Review

10 min read

Space Pirate Captain Harlock CoverDoes the new animation do justice to the legendary pirate?

What They Say:
Far, far in the future, or perhaps the distant past. 500 billion displaced humans long to return to the planet they still refer to as home. Captain Harlock is the one man standing between the corrupt Gaia Coalition and their quest for complete intergalactic rule. Seeking revenge against those who wronged both mankind and himself, the mysterious space pirate roams the universe in his battle cruiser, the Arcadia, defiantly attacking and pillaging enemy ships. Gaia Fleet leader Ezra sends his younger brother, Logan to infiltrate the Arcadia and assassinate Harlock. But Logan will soon discover that things are not always what they seem and that legends are born for a reason. Based on original characters and stories created by Leiji Matsumoto.

The Review:
Set up in both 5.1 Japanese only, (which is rare because UK doesn’t usually do sub only releases AND there is a dub available in the US release) the audio as expected for a release like this is superb – the echoing effects come through overpowering on the speakers that I had to reduce my settings. No problems with transition between audio and subtitles with no slowdown, however the fact that the subtitles do use the dub versions of some of the names, yet you can clearly hear the Japanese names being used (Logan for example is used in the subtitles yet you can clearly hear the original name Hama during the dialogue) making it a fair bit confusing due to the fact the UK release didn’t get an English dub, so in that respect despite the quality of what we got, it is a bit disappointing.

Set on a 16:9 – 1.78:1 ratio on a widescreen format, the update from 1970s animations to modern day CGI is used to perfection with this release – I have no complaints with the update animation wise – it is superb, flowing, using movement sensors for action scenes incorporated into the animation, with no slowdown in action or picture distortion whilst pausing – the visuals are stunning and with there being a 3D release as well you wonder how that will work with some of the action scenes – overall superb (there is a minor bit of slowdown during the making of extras however whenever it transits into a new section surprisingly…)

The initial image is of a lightly moving image of Harlock looking badass and life like on the right hand side on a starry night sky background with the choices on the bottom being Play Film, Scene Selection, Bonus and Set Up. Being a movie, the scene selection is more standard scenes rather than just navigating episodes making it easy to carry on where you left off if you had to – no problems with selection from any of the menus or returning to the menu from the film.

The only extra on the DVD release is a segment called ‘The Making of Captain Harlock’ which considering the animation seems to be something that could be interesting. Sadly, most of it is jus retelling the plot of the movie with the occasional look into the background. It does have some interesting facts, like about its roots with Leiji Matsumoto, the original anime series 30 years prior, its popularity in France, what makes Harlock so appealing, etc but it then is mostly talking about the plot, then into how the new Harlock is depicted and not a simple remake, more a reboot whilst taking the spirit of the original – we get a very brief interview with the director/producers Shinji Amaraki (of Appleseed fame) and Harutoshi Fukui who talk about wanting to adjust the story into modern day Japan but keep up Harlocks’ creed of freedom but throughout the 22 minutes, it is mostly just the plot and nothing much else – it does introduce the voice cast (Harlock and Logans seiyuu) and the singers of the end theme and briefly the use of facial capture technology used to digitize into the animation for gun and sword scenes and a brief look at the CGI usage, but it is very disappointing for a behind the scenes production.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Sadly, as old as I am, I haven’t watched the original Captain Harlock series – something I do intend to rectify in the near future. All I know is that Harlock is considered one of the greatest male anime characters of all time, by being a total badass but also have a huge code of honour and care for his crew, no matter his personal view and/or ideals. So this movie was interesting for me to see it evolve animation wise, and would this get me more interested in watching the original series? The superb animation is obvious, but like with any good video game, graphics only tell half the story, if the game isn’t good gameplay wise, it isn’t worth it – so is the story good enough?

We get some exposition about the legend of Harlock at first (potentially immortal space pirate ), but are quickly cut to people seeming evacuating an area because of Harlocks’ ship approaching – some people begin climbing a cliff to see a giant ship and are taken prisoner, however the crew say they will take one recruit from the rabble – the reasons for wanting to join seem petty and they all fall to their death except for one who spots Captain Harlock and is saved before he falls when he says ‘for freedom’.

We are introduced to our main character Logan (though as mentioned this seems to be a dub change as can clearly hear Yama – even more odd because there is no dub for the UK release) who is a newcomer, though seems to handle his way round guns and such. It is quick established he is in fact a spy for the Gaia Legion who are searching for Harlock – at first their motive isn’t well known but later in the movie we learn of the history of the Gaia Legion and Logan’s reasoning for his infiltration which will be covered later but there is an opening flashback which also involves his brother Ezra (Isora in original Japanese) who is the Admiral of the Gaia Fleet, and a woman named Nami – who the brothers both seem to have a thing for…

Logan tries to spy around Harlock but interventions, hiding and a mysterious alien like woman manage to hinder, and in some ways help him as it appears she and Harlock are already aware he is a spy, yet allow him to continue his mission. There is a lot of mystery between what Harlock wants Logan for which is actually well told by the end of the film. The story is Harlock is installing dimensional pods (oscillators) which will allow him to open time nodes/portals – the story seems to be that Harlock wants to begin life anew after he sets up 100 of them – on the 99th, Logan volunteers to help out and learning from people of his crew but still having his mission, he actually almost forces Harlock to jump out and save him from a giant worm on the uninhabited planet, which mixing in flashbacks to him, his brother and the woman Nami, where Logan accidentally destroyed the family greenhouse, causing Yzra’s crippling injuries and putting Nami into a coma where she lives on in the current time as a hologram – again, these things all put together here do become more important by the end of the movie.

We get a confrontation of Logan to Harlock, but here is where the movie does weaken a bit. Throughout the movie, Logan seems to shift sides’ way too much – here, he has Harlock dead to rights yet they work together to survive and Harlock never exposes Logan’s intentions, making him seem to work for him. The Gaia team now revitalize a weapon once learning of Harlocks’ plan of using the Nodes of Time to almost turn back time and begin a new genesis – whilst talks from Mimay, the alien woman and Harlock put everything into perspective – how Harlock is practically immortal, how Harlock was once part of the Gaia fleet and how Mimay and her alien technology are used because of Harlocks’ nature, and how the Gaia betrayed him thus Harlock unleashed Mimays’ ability to set out dark matter, protecting humanity but costing him people and ships and blackening the Earth, making it near inhabitable – hence Harlocks’ motives to ‘turn back time.’

The remainder of the movie is now a struggle for Logan as he initially betrays Harlock and sets him up for a viewed execution, but he AGAIN changes his mind and returns to Harlocks’ side after seeing there is life on Earth still (and a representative of his sibling and love interest with the white flower) whilst the realization of this makes Yzra go a bit nuts combined with Nami seemingly betraying him as well, where Yzra actually ‘kills’ her adding to Logans’ reasons for now staying with Harlock as they know want to expose the truth on the Earth. It leads to an all out battle between Gaia and the Arcadia (Harlocks’ ship), confrontations between Yzra and Logan, stopping the Gaia’s weapon, and the grand finale where Harlocks’ plan goes into provision and what role Logan has in it as he contemplates yet another betrayal – or perhaps becoming the new Captain Harlock to prevent any future wars once the Earth recovers…

O.K, those being very new to Captain Harlock, the first thing after watching it was the fact that there really wasn’t much of Harlock in the movie. The main focus is really Logan being a mole onto the crew and fighting with himself throughout the movie whether to be on Harlocks’ side or Gaias’ side, with issues around his brother he changes his mind several times throughout the movie, which almost ruins the film to a minor extent. The fact he isn’t that interesting a character and is almost a bit of a cry-baby (he caused an explosion for a minor thing that caused his brothers’ disability and his love interests’ coma – granted he does feel really bad about it but still is jealous over his brother and the reasoning behind it was stupid) making you not really feel much for him until he discovers the life on Earth when Nami is killed and with renewed spirit, he now fights for Harlock, but even THEN right at the end he nearly tries to take him out. It feels very wishy-washy, and detracts from the true plot of Harlock and the time nodes.

On the plus side, everything Harlock does and the Gaia does is all tied in very well by the end of the movie whether you watched the original franchise or are coming into it new – knowing how Harlock has lived for over 100 years and how he felt betrayed by the Gaia despise all his selflessness – the death of his best friend, the loyalty of his crewmates (whilst there isn’t much development on them, there are some fun ones like the female officer and the rotund engineer) – Mimays’ role is kept secret almost like a ghost until we learn of her past, and what she pretty much repeats near the end to a lot more risk is a great moment. The fact the exposition and plot doesn’t really hit until the half-way point where everything makes sense is good in terms of the development of the story, but at that point it was just an infiltration by a spy whose brother seemed to hate him for crippling his girlfriend and wondered why he was after Harlock. Fortunately it does all make sense come the half way point.

The animation is incredible and is a pleasure to watch – and I certainly want to check out the original just because I really liked the Harlock character. Noble, selfless yet on the wrong side of the law – he has his own rules but won’t harm life unless he has to – even ones he knows coming to spy on him are welcome if they have a reason or a hunch. His back-story is sad and his mission is true, yet you can also see Gaias’ opposition to him, and whilst most of the group are simple corporate suits, Yzra at least has a depth to him which verges between good brother and insane, giving him a unique bite to him.

As good as the movie is however, and the fact you don’t need to be a fan of the original to enjoy it, the issues that Logan is the focus and that he isn’t that enjoyable a character when Harlock should have been more of the focus knocks it down a bit. That said, it is a sight on the eyes, and should be viewed once – and then time to track down the origi-nal….

Harlock Space Pirate is a spectacle to behold. Beautiful CGI animation, modernizing a series into the 21st century with a legendary and likeable main character…which unfortunately suffers from not BEING the main character when he should have. The idea of Logan as the new Harlock after all his indecision is a bit of a mixed message and the conflict between him and his brother whilst tying into Harlocks’ storyline shouldn’t have taken so much focus in the movie. That said, it does tie in, there is decent development and there are plenty of awesome moments to enjoy visually, action wise and even story wise with the odd sad and tender moment too. A mixed bag, but worth a watch.

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: April 27th, 2015
MSRP: £16.99
Running Time: 107 minutes
Video Encoding: Region 2

Review Equipment:
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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